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Daily Devotion for Friday 19th July 2024

Friday, 19 July 2024

Hebrews 10:32-39 (from the NRSV (Anglicised), with OT quotes in italics)

32 But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. 35 Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. 36 For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 For yet
    ‘in a very little while,
        the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
38  but my righteous one will live by faith.
        My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’
39 But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

Reflection

The Christians who received this letter had been hit hard by persecution. While this had happened in ‘earlier days’ (v.32), the tone of these verses suggests that some challenges are still around. There is not much detail about these pressures, although their impact had obviously been severe – prison, public insult and contempt, ransacking of property (vv.33-34). Church members had to support each other, perhaps with material relief or hospitality. 

We don’t know where or when this was. The New Testament mentions various local persecutions, and surely some other episodes went unrecorded. Hebrews could come from almost anywhere in the Mediterranean world. Nor do we know who initiated the persecution, although it does seem likely that followers of Jesus had been picked out. They were an identifiable target, a visible group within the wider Jewish community. So if some now thought of going back to traditional Judaism, that would be understandable. It might be safer to be less visible. The whole argument of Hebrews is an attempt to dissuade them from this, and keep them committed to Jesus.

The letter recalls the suffering sensitively but positively too. It is to the readers’ credit that they withstood it (vv.32-34). They have shown resilience already, and more is needed (vv.35-36). Their trials will not go on for ever (v.37), but they must go forward ‘by faith’. Now would not be a time to ‘shrink back’ (vv.38, 39). This thought leads into a long catalogue of faithful people – examples, predecessors, ‘a cloud of witnesses’ (12:1) –, which fills chapter eleven.

This is not, of course, just history. Many Christian groups around the world today face serious opposition, perhaps from governments, courts and laws, or from mobs, riots and lawlessness. They value our prayers, and sometimes our practical help too.

For prayer

Do you know of a place where Christians are suffering for their faith? Pray for that situation and those people, for faith, courage and wisdom, and for God’s transforming presence to be known.

Today’s writer

The Revd John Proctor is a retired minister, and a member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge.

Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2024 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
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Daily Devotion for 18th July 2024

Thursday, 18 July 2024

Hebrews 10:19-31 (from the NRSV (Anglicised), with OT quotes in italics)

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26 For if we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Reflection

These verses recall an earlier snippet in the letter. The focus shifted in chapter four, from pilgrimage to priesthood, and now it is about to shift back. Chapter nine was all priesthood, eleven will tell again of journeying, and here in ten is a hinge, a fulcrum in the writing. Just as the verses from 4:14 were a transition, pointing on to the priesthood of Jesus, so the verses from 10:19 draw on this priesthood to urge the readers on. There are several echoes between these two transition passages. You may spot others.

4:14-16                                                 10:19-25
 



‘Let us’ is a chorus-line in these verses – ‘let us approach, let us hold fast, let us consider’ (vv.22-24). The plural is important; Christians need one another. The readers of Hebrews have been facing pressure, and perhaps even spiritual crisis. The best way to withstand the storm is to hold together, to carry on meeting, to encourage and support one another, and to nurture habits of love and service (vv.24-25). We receive from Christ through and with each other, not just alone.

Next comes another of the occasional warning passages that run through this letter. We met a couple of these earlier (2:1-4 and 5:11–6:8). The writer’s concern is not, I think, a general anxiety that the readers might sometimes sin, but a fear that they will abandon their allegiance to Jesus altogether. That would be a bad error, says Hebrews, because then there is nowhere else to go for pardon (v.26). The old sacrifices will not help. The prospect of judgment is a serious concern too (vv.27, 30, 31). If God steps in to vindicate the church, one would wish to be counted among the faithful. Persecution is afoot, of which we hear more tomorrow. Resilience matters.

For thought and prayer

If you were trying to dissuade someone from turning their back on the Christian life, what would you say? What issues, concerns and arguments might help? 

Will you pray for any church friends you know who have been battered by circumstances recently, that they will find real encouragement from God and from other people?


 

Today’s writer

The Revd John Proctor is a retired minister, and a member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge.

Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2024 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you have subscribed to the Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church. You can unsubscribe by clicking on the link below.

Our mailing address is:
United Reformed Church
86 Tavistock Place
London, WC1H 9RT
United Kingdom

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